Kansas CITY, Mo. - In the end, it doesn’t how you win, just as long as you win. For Kansas, that’s all that matters, as they used defense and tenacity to slog their way to an ugly battle that ended with a beautiful result, as they outlasted Baylor 62-52 Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City in the semifinals of the Big 12 Championship.
The final score wasn’t indicative of how sloppy it looked early, as the Jayhawks trudged their way to a 26-18 lead at halftime, but in the second half, they turned the defense up and were able to kick up their shooting a little, despite still struggling from three point range.
“There for a while I think both teams set basketball back, Mr. (former Oklahoma State coach Henry) Iba and Dr. (Phog) Allen would have been proud there for a while,” head coach Bill Self said. “We kind of got a little rhythm offensively and defensively and really played well defensively and rebounded the ball. Certainly, we were on fire from three because we made three. We were 3 for 12, and that's the best we shot in a while. But it was good to have Perry (Ellis) and Kelly (Oubre) to knock down a couple right off the bat and that gave us confidence.”
“But the difference in the game, from my perspective, was that would he defended for 40 minutes and rebounded the ball great,” Self continued. “And Wayne (Selden) was great and having Perry out there gives our team a ton of confidence.”
Indeed, sophomore guard Wayne Selden was great, as he shook off a nagging ankle injury to ignite the Kansas (26-7) offense in the second half to the tune of 20 points and eight big rebounds. Junior forward Perry Ellis was back in the lineup, as he shook off the rust from his injured knee to score 11 points and add six rebounds.
The biggest key was the Jayhawks defense, which held Baylor (24-9) to a season low in points and holding them to just 33 percent shooting. The effort was encouraging as Kansas prepares for all scenarios they could encounter going forward.
“I think sometimes when it's not very artistic, I think people say, well, you didn't play well,” Self said. “If we wanted to play a pretty game with Baylor, they would probably beat our butts. So I think we did a good job of making it a game with no rhythm and I do think our guys find a way to win. Last night we found a way to win ugly, I don't see that being the case at all tonight. I think it was more of a good defensive energy rebounding type effort which is the formula for winning in the NCAA Tournament, too, because you can never bank on shots going in.”
Kansas will now get a chance to reclaim the Big 12 Championship title when they finally get their long awaited showdown with Iowa State, Saturday night. The Cyclones have survived two emotionally draining battles, most recently a 67-65 victory over Oklahoma in Friday night’s second game. Kansas and Iowa State split the season series with each team winning on its home floor. The Cyclones knocked the Jayhawks a year ago in the semifinals en route to winning the tournament.